Softwood decking comes from coniferous trees. (Hardwood decking comes from Broadleaf trees).
One of the first things that is normally decided upon when thinking of a new decking area, is whether to use softwood or hardwood decking boards.
The choice is not as cut and dried as you might think, and certainly should not be based upon cost alone. Both hardwood and softwood decking boards have advantages - and disadvantages!
Decks made from softwood timber are by far the most popular. Not without good reason!
Typical coniferous trees that are used in the production of softwood decking are Pine - Pinus sylvestris - the Scots Pine; Spruce - Picea abies - the Norway Spruce ( Christmas tree) ; Fir - Abies - The Silver Fir and Cedar – Thuya (Red Cedar) and Hemlock (rarely) – Tsuga.
The vast majority of decks in the UK, The Americas and of course Scandinavian countries, are invariably constructed from softwood deckboards and softwood framing and joists. It is estimated that around 90% of all decks are constructed from softwood.
Most softwood decking is treated with a preservative before sale – during manufacture. These treatments are well regulated, and pose no risk to health life – either human - or indeed fish if used near water.
Softwood decking treated with Tanalith during manufacture, will
normally carry a guarantee of 15 years. It should easily last 25.
However, like all outside buildings, it should have regular care and
Softwood decking is easier to use than hardwood – which needs a greater degree of skill in workmanship, is less expensive, should last a lifetime, and is a very cost-effective way of providing the outside living space that is so desirable. Whatever the colour of the treatment, and with softwood decking treated with Tanalith, it will be either light green or light brown, this will fade in a matter of days to a honey brown colour, and thereafter to the normal light grey over time. You will not 'always' have a light green softwood deck!
The deck boards come in a range of profiles – reeded, grooved, or
flat. There is little difference between any of them in practice, though
appearance may be a deciding factor. Again, most softwood decking
throughout the world, and this includes piers gangways and the like, are
constructed from plain non-grooved timbers. Grooved softwood decking
does not provide for a non-slip surface – any more than a plain flat
board, though it is said to help rain dispersion - if laid correctly!
Sustainable Softwood Decking
Softwood decking is invariably from sustainable sources. It is produced from relatively quick growing trees and replanted on a regular cropping basis, with a quick turn round on investment. (The same – sadly – is not always true of hardwood decking, which comes from trees that take many years to mature – and are not often replanted for investment.)
Western red Cedar - or as is often called - Cedar decking is also a softwood – even if it’s marketing name seems to suggest otherwise! It comes from the conifer known as Thuja or sometimes Thuya. Cedar decking does not come from the majestic Cedrus species, but from the Arborvitae Thuja - Thuja plicata. Obviously the term Cedar conjures up visions of an ultra hard wood. It is not. It is a softwood decking material. However, it is a very durable timber, straight grained - if coarse - and easily worked.
Scots Pine produces a fine grained timber often referred to as Redwood. The other conifers mentioned above produce the softwood known as whitewood. Redwood is a denser timber than whitewood, with a closer grain, that has very few defects or knots, and is generally straight grained. This makes redwood grades desirable – or even necessary – for quality woodworking and joinery work. A typical Redwood is Southern yellow Pine.
A typical use of Southern Yellow Pine Softwood Decking.
Southern Yellow Pine - sometimes known as Pitch Pine - is manufactured from Pine species including long leaved Pine. It has good nail holding properties, and as it dries so the nail holding properties increase. One drawback of this particular timber is the fact that the resin can repel other treatments, and is particularly resinous around some knots. This quality softwood is used for decking timber extensively in the USA. It is straight, wide grained and easy to work.
Some softwoods can be more dense and harder than hardwoods! To complicate things even further, Balsa wood which most will know to be a very soft and light wood, is in fact a hardwood - coming from a broadleaf (flowering) tree. Conifers don't flower in the real sense!
Softwood decking classed as redwood, is invariably more expensive than whitewood a/ because of market demands and b/ because a pine trees have a slower growth rate than a Fir or Spruce.
With softwood decking, resin can cause gumming of saws and other tools used for cutting. (With hardwood decking, the harder hardwoods can cause blunting of cutting apparatus.)